Paper Patterns From Indie Sewing Companies

named pattern

Recently, I’ve been ordering more sewing patterns from independent companies. I’m not a huge fan of PDF downloads, so when the option is available, I’ve bought print and darn the expense. What a journey of discovery it’s been!

indie sewing patterns

No doubt about it, what indie sewing pattern companies understand is the power of the covetable. I’ve loved exploring the different details each pattern brings. The stickers to be unpeeled, the ring binds, fabric swatches and woven labels.

The thrill is not just in the physical, but in the instructions. I was delighted when Named Clothing were the first (to my knowledge) to clarify what they meant by right and left. No more head scratching at my reflection in the mirror!

right and left

Today, I listened to the latest podcast from Whilst She Naps. Abby interviews Heather Lou of Closet Case Files. You can find the conversation here – an intelligent and eloquent snapshot of the home sewing industry in 2016.

Heather Lou talked about her own decision to produce printed patterns. She makes astute observations about the appeal of the physical. People love an object. Nice to hold, sits on a shelf … and gives credibility to the creator.

sewing patterns

Are you a sucker for the sewing pattern equivalent of the indie press? Smaller print runs, beautiful objects. Of course, even Mr Allen Lane started small with his sixpence paperbacks. And we all know what happened to him

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46 Responses to Paper Patterns From Indie Sewing Companies

  1. Katie says:

    Yeah, I love a printed patter. Pretty packaging is a plus (hark at the alliteration!). I don’t get why people say PDF is the instant gratification option with all that tiresome printing and sticking – gimme something straight out the envelope please. Much easier to store, keep and reuse too, so overall worth the extra money.

    • Ah, now, I do understand the instant gratification of PDF downloads – but I think it’s in the moment of purchase, more than it is in the process of making. Want, order, delivered! I’d love to know how many of those PDF downloads become sewn items.

    • meganeyssell says:

      I’m freakish and I love taping together pattern pieces and I’m pretty sure I am in the minority! I’m genuinely excited when I get to do it and I end up putting it together months before I actually sew. I also like that you can reprint them again and again.

    • Grace says:

      I prefer the PDF pattern. They save space and are thus way easier to store and I love being able to print fresh copies to hack into for the inevitable pattern adjustments. I always end up tracing printed patterns to preserve them as a master copy and that takes much longer than taping.

  2. fabrickated says:

    Very interesting!

    I like pdf patterns because you can see the picture and buy it and make it without going to a shop or buying on line. I have downloaded a few free ones and not used them, but have found Burda downloads economical and reliable. I throw out the paper when I have made it and like the fact that the pattern is available to download again at no cost if I want to make it again. Although I have lots of nice, mainly vintage patterns, I find they take up too much space in my little flat.

    But as you mentioned books (and are in the world of publishing) I have to say that I have become much fonder of Kindle books than real books. I can have a few in my bag at all times, taking up hardly any space. Kindle books are often £3 or £4 than a second hand paperback, which I resent, but I now only buy “real books” if they are not available to down load.

    • Ha! I see all the advantages of the Kindle and, believe me, that little piece of technology makes carrying and reading manuscripts a heck of a lot easier. But therein lies the rub. I now resent reading for pleasure on my Kindle because I associate it with work, and have been slowly returning to the pleasures of the physical book. In my experience, if I read a book on the Kindle and love it, I just have to have a physical copy to gaze at on my bookshelf. Win, win for a publisher! (A Bit off topic, I think does feed in.)

      • Robin says:

        Karen, speaking of off topic but fitting in, do you also use real books for the sewing patterns? There are many out now intended for home sewers, and include tops and other wearables for stash busting. Some are organized by fiber content. I borrow new ones from the library and there have been many published lately (at least in the US) that coincide with the increase in hand made goods. Fortunately my library keeps the included patterns at the back of the book intact, so I can trace a version for myself.

    • Ah, Robin, I have opinions on sewing books and keep meaning to blog. Honestly, I rarely use patterns from books. Maybe one per book, if that. I’m fascinated by this and don’t think I’m alone and would love to explore more. Let me know if you have an opinion!

      • I can’t get by without my Kindle as my eyesight fails with age, but I mostly download books I already have in hard copy. I love books – I love the smell, the feel, the sound -libraries make my heart sing. It’s just the issue of the size of print and I can’t wear glasses when reading in bed as I have all my life. I refuse to sell out!!!

  3. Hila says:

    I am PDF all the way because of my personal economics i.e. I prefer to buy the cheapest option available. I find a lot of Indies prohibitively expensive and have swayed towards Burda. I dont mind the taping and such – its meditative time for me to think about fabric options and pattern placements.

  4. Kate says:

    I’m probably in the minority here but I prefer PDFs. I find it takes me less time to tape them together and cut them out rather than trace off pattern tissue. I feel like the taped pattern is a bit sturdier (I’ve torn pattern tissue in the past) and I like knowing that if something happens to my pattern, lost, water damage, dog steps all over the pieces while i have them on the floor…I can just print it out again.

  5. Robin says:

    I am rather old school, and the majority of my patterns are printed. Many have been collected over a thirty year time span. I have one Indie pattern that I haven’t made up yet (Colette’s Iris) but I am really impressed with the packaging, and the tissue is quality as well. (Many of the big companies use the flimsiest tissue paper but I enjoy cutting in front of the telly) Iris was quite pricey, but worth it, as all of the reviews I have read rate it pretty well. Not yet tempted by PDFs, although a few free ones have been downloaded and made up. Once taped, they are rolled up and placed in a cardboard tube with the instructions. I have also copied patterns and instructions from library books, but not for commercial use, so I think that’s okay. These have been the most fun because they are usually for handy items that are great stash busters, like the fleece boots I wore all winter!

  6. Steph says:

    You know, it’s funny… this made me realize that I am turned off by all of the packaging and bells and whistles of the indy patterns and so haven’t bought one in a few years. I love the compactness and conciseness of Burda, so apart from vintage Vogue designs that attract me for the chicness factor, I stick to Burda. I don’t find tacking together a pdf particularly time-consuming. Oddly enough though I was in love with my Kindle for a few years but have definitively returned to physical books…hmm. ..

    • Jen (NY) says:

      That’s interesting. I’m turned off by the highly designed packaging as well. I thought it was just me.

      • I associate patterns with disappointment, and sewing for others. I don’t love them for their own sake, so I own very few and take no pleasure in their mere existence. The ones I have drafted however, I love for their usefulness and tried and trueness.

    • Steph says:

      Oops “indie.” I’ve been thinking about this overnight and I think there are some interesting things going on here. I’ve been thinking for a while that my goal as a knitter and a seamstress is to not need patterns. I’ve been knitting for forty years and yet I still use patterns often, which I sometimes feel is symptomatic of a lack of confidence in my own skills (and I want to break free of that). Something about the indies speaks to me on this level – maybe the bells and whistles are an entry point to the craft, but then they disguise fairly simple/standard offerings. I realized early on in using Burda Magazines that with two or three I had more or less everything I would need to make a wide range of designs (not that my skills are quite there, but I think this conveys my point). Anyhow, an interesting discussion, as always, Karen. PS Mrs. C., I can understand your perspective.

  7. I always have loved printed patterns because I loath taping. Gluing makes it slightly better, only slightly. I hate that I’m spending money on paper, ink, glue/tape after I purchase the PDF. I think the cost of it might be slightly similar minus the pretty packaging. Then the idea of printing at the copy shop appealed to me because of the no taping needed. If I were to print at the copy shop, I think the price of a printed pattern would be the same.

  8. Jessica says:

    I have to admit I love PDF patterns. I’m a last minute type of person, and when I want to sew, I want to sew. I love being able to get it there and then and start.

    In saying that I do prefer a paper pattern. However living in Australia the postage costs are just way too high for me to justify it when there is a much cheaper option

  9. Hélène says:

    My preference now goes to PDFs in the printer shop format – no taping and it’s fast. Recently, I had to wait for 6 weeks to receive an indie pattern I had ordered by mail. What a downer! I promised to myself: never again.

  10. I love printed patterns, the packaging, details – the makers atelier especially. Have used PDF patterns and they have been perfectly fine, just prefer not to get tied up in tape while sticking down 25 sheets of A4.

    • Jenny says:

      I generally prefer PDFs as I’m not a confident sewer and like the option of reprinting if it all goes pear shaped (and I hate tracing more than cutting & gluing). However, I’ve been hovering over a Makers Atelier trouser pattern recently. The £22 price tag and lack of reviews has delayed me so far but I’m thinking it’s just a matter of time before my finger hits the buy button. So, other than the aesthetics of the paper pattern, I wondered would you recommend the Makers Atelier patterns?

  11. Colesworth says:

    PDF is great if you go the copy shop option. You can get it instantly – I cut them out and don’t even trace them. That being said, I love that I have a ‘real’ copy of the Sew over it vintage shirt dress – their packaging really appeals to me ;o)

  12. Yolande says:

    I definitely prefer the printed copy and the packaging. Last year I purchased the Sway Dress pattern from Pappercut Patterns and it came in beautiful packaging. However, PDF’s are more economical and I work in an office so easy to print and do a the cut and paste in my lunch hour. You certainly get sick of making up PDF’s though if you have too many patterns purchased in a row. I put all my PDF’s into clear plastic sleeves and store them in ring binders, which seems work well. Regardless of how great technology is, I will always prefer tangible things like books, DVD’s, CD’s and albums. I would love to buy printed patterns if I could afford it. And there is nothing like cracking open a pattern, especially the vintage ones when you can almost smell the era they came from.

  13. sewbusylizzy says:

    I love printed patterns – however I truly adore the ones printed on the heavier paper, such as Named & Papercut Patterns. I also love how they stack & store so easily, making lovely displays that also protect and organise the sewing stash.
    I am hugely addicted to books. I enjoy books for growing my skills & knowledge, inspiration or sewing projects. My Japanese books get a lot of work in the sewing department, at least three to four makes from every book – which makes them very economical! I do appreciate the Japanese niche isn’t for everyone in style or size.
    While I don’t mind PDFs I do tend to favor those with ‘copy shop’ A0 versions… and like many, unless I’m in love with a pattern and make it often (Grainline’s Alder) I simply throw out the messy paper pattern & just reprint when required.

  14. Kathy Britten says:

    My reason for ordering PDFs is as I live in Australia I find the postage can be a killer. I don’t mind the gluing, but if not for the postage, I would order proper patterns because the designers go to so much trouble.

  15. dr P says:

    I love a printed pattern, I’d rather trace off a copy than deal with the pdf nightmare. I have been burned making projects out of books…the last one was a disaster where the instructions hadn’t been proofread so I had to bluff my way through.
    I do covet the pretty pattern packages but my issue with a lot of the indie companies is that they concentrate so much on the new sewer that they don’t really make anything too complicated or for intermediate level sewers! Also, I’m never going to buy a pattern of something I could draft myself but that, I suspect is a whole other blog post!

  16. norma says:

    I’ve got a few indie patterns – coat, culottes. They are different from the standard companies and I like that. I have ventured into PDFs but haven’t actually used them – can’t face the printing.

  17. Esta says:

    The more I sew, the more I prefer magazines over individual patterns. Indie patterns are great when you’re only beginning to sew, but as one gets more experienced… well, there are of course exceptions, but I think indies are better at marketing than in pattern construction. Also, I don’t understand all the fuss about instructions. Do intermediate level sewists really rely on instructions when sewing basic garments? I highly doubt it.

  18. Beads and Barnacles says:

    I do have a lot of pdf patterns, but at the moment if I can get a paper pattern that isn’t a hell of a lot more expensive I do as I don’t own any printing equipment at the moment! one thing that does bug me about printed patterns how ever is that they all seem to be designed for letter paper which wastes soo much when printing on A4. I have been meaning to try printing the wide format ones on a normal printer and get it to automatically tile it as if it was a poster and see how that works but the lack of printer is holding me back atm.
    I always trace off my paper patterns so the actual glueing isn’t much more time for me, but I do wish it was easier to re print just one piece, ie the front bodice, if I am doing some pattern hacking to just one piece.

  19. melissa says:

    As a designer, I just find the idea of damaging the environment to physically ship data halfway around the world just so needlessly wasteful. But I outlined my reasons why I’m pdf-only a while back:

    As a consumer, I only really buy paper patterns when there’s no digital alternative, much for the same reasons that have already been outlined above: storage space, time-saving, and unlimited fresh copies. Even if there isn’t an A0 version available, I’d still rather assemble 30+ pages than trace out an equally expensive Big 4 pattern with tissue sheets that are bigger than our lounge.

  20. Nicola says:

    Am I the only person who doesn’t tape PDFs together? I trim them in the normal way then use blue tack to stick them to the table before tracing them. It makes it much easier to store the print outs for future use, and keeps them still while you’re tracing!

  21. Carol says:

    I’m using PDF patterns more. I love Style Arc and the shipping is very costly, as is the time delay. Once taped together I’ve been using a landscaping fabric to trace the pattern. The process takes awhile, but I then have it and the space needed for storage is minimal.

  22. Michele says:

    I absolutely will not buy pdf patterns for several reasons. First the tracing, taping, etc. is a colossal waste of my time–which is valuable to me. That aspect also leaves me feeling like throwing something through a window, which is not conducive to pleasurable, creative sewing. Second, the amount of ink used or paying for the copy shop version makes them equally or more expensive than the packaged paper patterns. And in terms of environmental impact, the heavier printing paper, ink (both of which contain toxins and are shipped), etc., make it a toss-up.

    With all of that, I am selective about which patterns I buy. It has to be a pattern that will fill a need or specific want in my wardrobe. I don’t need ten tee shirt patterns–I have two that work really well for me. I’ve fiddled with them enough to make them slopers so I won’t buy a shiny new tee pattern. And I’m willing to wait quite a long time for a sale.


  23. Helena says:

    An interesting selection of views here, personally I HATE pdf patterns. All that hassle of printing, cutting – even if you use a guillotine it still takes time, laying the pieces out and then sticking together. It certainly doesn’t save me any money when I factor my time into the equation. Plus there is the cost of the paper and printer ink. And there’s not much timesaving if I have to make time (and pay for the petrol and car parking) to go to a copy shop for A0 printing. And pay for the printing. Nope, paper patterns all the way! Although I did buy one pdf pattern… once.

  24. helen says:

    I do prefer to buy the printed over the pdf version. The two recent indie patterns that I have bought are a Pauline Alice and a Thread Theory. In both cases I was really pleased with the quality of the pattern, the packaging and the instructions.
    But indie patterns are expensive and you have to think if this is a pattern you are going to use again.

  25. Sarah C says:

    I prefer to buy printed. While they are more expensive than the big 4, they are only marginally more expensive than their PDF sister. That expense is worth it for me if I can save myself the headache of printing, cutting, taping, and tracing off the PDF pattern.

  26. I read this post this morning and have been thinking about it all day. while my first preference is for a standard Vogue or Burda envelope pattern, printed on tissue, I find that PDF’s are quite nice for instant gratification. I use a few Bootstrap Fashion patterns and find it takes about 10 minutes to tape together a pattern so not really a bother. Or BurdaStyle downloadable – I like those a lot and far better than tracing from the magazine which seems impossible. Since most of the independent patterns seem targeted to beginners they are not of interest and do seem awfully expensive. I liken them to paying for a department store makeup item versus buying it at the drugstore. The department store might have beautiful packaging, and wrap it in tissue, put it in a pretty bag but when you get home the color may not be right or you drop it and the fancy package breaks. Who hasn’t been there?
    So packaging on a pattern – particularly for something that might be a single use item just screams overhead and makes me not want to pay for it. I would happily pay a fortune for a perfect pair of leather boots which I will wear for years but a paper sewing pattern usually doesn’t justify the price. Two exceptions in my book are Pauline Alice and Sewaholic which both create more original styles. I hope they both can move to a higher volume of production which would either allow more pattern releases or cost reductions.

  27. sewnupgifts says:

    A really interesting discussion here, and it makes me realise I must be leading a sheltered sewing life! I have always used tissue patterns for 40 years at least! I have just chucked out a load as they take up so much drawer space, however, and I have thought about PDFs but never taken the leap. Having read much of the above I think I am sticking with paper, if you buy them on sale, they are not too expensive and they are so tactile! Thanks for a great blog, I enjoyed it!

  28. Katie M says:

    I love the printed patterns with their lovely packaging, printed instructions, and good quality paper patterns (like Tilly & the Buttons). However, I always trace off my patterns, which takes quite a while, so it’s not always time efficient. I also live in Singapore now, so the postage can double the price of a pattern. I’ve recently bought PDF versions because I can have it NOW, print it out as often as I like, and, if I’m making clothes for my kids, I can print it out twice and cut the right size for each child.

    My one big tip for PDF patterns is to buy some thin, double-sided tape. I trim the edge off one page, add double sided tape along the back, and stick it to the next page. I can’t stand patterns stuck together with small bits of tape, and paper edges flapping around.

  29. Louise says:

    Another Aussie who finds the PDF version preferable due to the exorbitantly high cost when you factor in the very low exchange rate for the Aussie Dollar and then also have to add in postage which has gone up a lot in the last year or so. PDF does cater to the ‘make it now’ and not have to drive 50 km to the nearest Spotlight or wait for 3 weeks or so for a pattern to arrive by mail. I use a glue stick to put mine together and store in plastic sleeves. I don’t usually print up the instructions as I can access them from my laptop or my ipad. I have a master folder with subfolders to keep my PDF patterns easy to find on my computer. I have been disappointed with some of the paper patterns that use the thin tissue (like the Big4) – much prefer if I am paying for a paper pattern to have a stable paper used such as Style Arc. 99 per cent of patterns I use these days would be from Indie designers.

  30. I love Ottobre magazine, it is a half way house. Although I have to trace off the pattern I don’t use ink and paper and time taping it all together (loathe) It is worth tracing a pattern for me because I have two girls so I know that the smaller sized patterns I have traced will come in for my second daughter. I don’t have many indie patterns (too expensive) but I love to hold my vintage ones and see them on the shelves. Jo x

  31. esewing says:

    I have a mix of both , but how could you not love a box of patterns to sort through for inspiration , itching to peek into those in your photos !

  32. Where I live (Israel) printed patterns are to find, and there are no indie pattern anywhere, so I only own three printed ones and have used just one. I think that the time it takes to print and assemble the PDF is comparable with the time it takes to trace a printed pattern.

    I do have something against the beautiful printed indie patterns. While I enjoy paying money for their work, I find the excessive packaging wasteful and in a way it goes against some of the pillars of sewing – being a mindful consumer and thoughtful owner of “stuff”.

    Indie patterns are in some ways like any other product we buy, and I know the company owners spend a lot of time on marketing and presentation. Sometimes I wish they would let the high quality patterns to speak for themselves. The extra time and money owners will save on the unnecessary stuff will allow them to invest it in other things, and hopefully work less. Additionally the costs (money and waste) that go into shipping them all over the world could be reduced.

    I know that if I had the opportunity to purchase the printed patterns I probably would. They are so beautiful! And shiny! And everybody talked about how great they are, and I feel left out. So Maybe it’s a good think I don’t have the option, so I don’t have to resist the temptation all the time.

  33. I will never buy pdf patterns and will go for paper every time. I did buy one once, a nice Burda leggings one but all that taping left me cold and I was bored before I even began sewing. There is something about owning the physical object, the fact that I can carry it about and read it (sad I know) before I make it, or even take it to the fabric shop with me. I have a fair few indies now and have no preference for them over vintage or Big 4 although they are quite pretty in their way. It is interesting to wreathe comments here. I wonder if there may be an age bias in the use of pdfs? Xx

  34. Nelba says:

    For me it is a matter of economy. I would prefer the printed pattern, but the South African Rand is just worth so little at the moment, that I would end up paying a fortune if I have to factor in postage etc. (Even as a Pdf pattern most Indie patterns are way of my range – coming in a about R200 per pattern when I could buy a Big 4 pattern for R70 – R80.) Sad.

  35. I am falling more in love with indie patterns every day! I’m always finding fun things and it’s great because they always have the details I prefer that the big companies don’t have. They are expensive – which is why I haven’t really bought any. I have a huge list of indie patterns I want but for now I’ll have to just stick with what is already in my stash. Soon, though!

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